A Firsthand Account About Renting Out An EV On Turo

FIAT 500e

JAN 6 2018 BY DAVID MURRAY 41

FIAT 500e

My FIAT 500e (yes … it’s an EV)

Like many of you, I’ve heard these stories about people buying an expensive car, renting it out on Turo, and using that money to pay for the car. The idea being, the car is free. In fact, the car might even make money for you. That’s the idea, anyway.

Since I work from home I have thought about this for a while. I’m always available to deal with a car being picked up or returned. So, I thought I’d give it a try. Of course, I wanted to do it with an electric vehicle, because that’s the only type of vehicle I’d want, free or otherwise. Not only would this be fun for me, but in many ways, I considered it as a service to the community.

FIAT 500e

The FIAT 500e is an EV

First of all, I’ve been driving EVs since 2011 and whenever my car was in the shop for any reason during that time, I was forced to drive a gasoline car. Why? Because in Dallas/Ft.Worth there aren’t any EVs for rent from traditional car rental companies.

So, that’s one way I’d be helping out. If some poor EV driver had their car in the shop and wanted an EV rental, one would be available. The second way I would be helping out is for those people that would like to try an EV beyond a dealership test drive and without the hassle of dealing with a salesman.

I wasn’t willing to rent out my 2017 Volt or my wife’s 2014 i3 Rex. At least not at first. I also wasn’t willing to spend a lot of money on a Tesla or something as an experiment for this. So, I started shopping around for a really cheap EV that I could afford to pay cash for, and then put it on Turo. I figured worst case, if it didn’t work out, I could just resell the car and my losses would be minimal.

I knew from the beginning whatever car I picked would probably not be a super-desirable car to rent compared to something like a Tesla or a BMW i8. So, I would be sure to take that into account when looking at the number of days it gets rented. I figured this was a learning experiment, after all. The idea being, if it worked out, I would move up the ladder with something like a Tesla or a Bolt EV.

After shopping around, I found several EVs in the area under $10,000. I had considered a used LEAF and a used Volt. One thing that scared me about the used LEAFs in Texas, having previously owned one, is that the battery would be degraded on any LEAF I could buy under $10,000. Not only that, I didn’t feel like it was a very desirable car that somebody might want to rent.

FIAT 500e

Notice the charging cable, which one uses to charge the EV (nicely packed the way it should be)

Fortunately, I found this used FIAT 500e. They aren’t even sold new in Texas, but there are a few used ones that have found their way over here. I found this one for $7,500. The price was too good to be true considering it had only 28,000 miles on it and was in really nice condition. I verified that two dealers in the area were, surprisingly, certified to work on it. Most likely this is due to them getting certified for the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid. So, I bought it.

After putting it on Turo for a couple of months, I can definitely say I’ve had a learning experience. I’ve obviously experienced many of the same frustrations that many Turo hosts have experienced, such as the car being returned with cigarette smoke smell in the interior, and a scratch on the door. Every time the car is returned, I must do a full detail job on it.

This isn’t a problem for me since I consider an hour washing the car a good exercise substitute for using the elliptical or jogging in the park, which I do every day. I mean, if I’m going to be wasting time just to burn some calories and get my heart rate up, I might as well be making money doing that.

Those were the sort of problems I really expected, especially after researching experiences other people have had on Turo. Now, let me tell you about some of the problems I didn’t anticipate. Most of these are related to the fact that the car is an EV.

The first and most common problem I had was people trying to rent the car thinking it was a gasoline-powered Fiat 500. I went out of my way to distinguish it as an EV from day one by showing the main photo with the charging cable connected. Additionally, I wrote several points in the main description telling people it does not run on gasoline and will need to be charged. I went into great detail about the range, charging, etc.

FIAT 500e

A look inside my FIAT 500e

Despite that, people are ignorant. I had people booking the car who had no idea it was an electric car. Some people assumed it was a hybrid. Some people understood it was electric but didn’t understand how far 85 miles is and assumed they could drive it for days without recharging it, much like they do with a gasoline car.

This presented a big problem because when people would book the car and show up, I would start talking to them. I would start asking them “where are you going to charge it? Do you have an outlet in your garage?” Many of these people lived in an apartment and had nowhere to charge the car.

As a result, I would wind up canceling their booking. This is unfortunate because if I cancel a trip in the last 24 hours of a booking, I get charged a $50 fee. But the reality is, I was doing these people a favor.

This was so common, that I had to take my car off of the automatic booking mode, and thus require me to approve any renters moving forward. This limits my audience because people want to be able to automatically book a car. But, it was the only way I could screen out the idiots. So at this point, when somebody requests to book the car, I ask them these questions about charging first. Once I’m convinced they can actually use the car, I will approve it.

Ok, so it sounds like that would solve all of my problems, right? Well, not really.

Even after doing all of this, I still ran into problems. People weren’t renting this car just to drive to work and back. They seemed to enjoy driving it. The Fiat 500e, for all its flaws, is a fun little car to drive. However, they enjoy driving it too much and drive it all around town, right up until the battery runs out. Then what?

FIAT 500e

A closer look inside the FIAT 500e

Well, that’s when the text messages start coming in. I’ve actually gotten texts while I’m asleep asking things like “The car only has 3% left on the battery, will it still keep driving when it runs out?” I mean, what kind of question is that? If it would still keep driving, why bother to ever charge it up in the first place?

So, invariably I have to help them find a place to charge it. I tell them to install Plugshare on their phone. That only helps so much, though. That’s where the second problem comes in.

This is Texas. This is not California. Charging stations are often 10 miles apart or even more depending on what part of the metroplex you are in. What’s worse, when they do find a charging location, how do they activate it? We have EvGo, Chargepoint, and Blink stations around here, but they all require RFID cards to activate the chargers.

These rental customers can’t treat these stations like they do gas stations where they can use their credit card to fill up. Even if they wanted to have one of these RFID cards, they should have ordered them two weeks before renting the car. Fortunately, some of these can now be activated by installing an app on your smartphone. However, I have to spend a lot of time hand-holding people through the process. To make matters worse, the Fiat 500e doesn’t support DC fast charging.

Charging at home isn’t as straightforward as you might think either. People will call me saying they plugged the EV in at home, but it isn’t charging. At first, you might think it is a ground-fault problem or tripped breaker, but more often than not the problem is between their ears. The car is charging, it is just taking a long time. That’s because level-1 charging is meant for overnight charging.

These people become frustrated because, despite my explanations, they tried to take the car home thinking 20 minutes would be enough to recharge the car. One guy actually DID have his breaker trip in the middle of the night, so the car didn’t charge at all. So, he tried to return the car to me the next morning. He arrived in my driveway with the battery gauge reading 0% and in reduced power mode. He said it would only let him drive 15 miles per hour the last mile. I’m just waiting for the day I have to pick up the car with a tow truck. That seems inevitable at this point.

FIAT 500e

Though small, the FIAT 500e has decent cargo capacity if you’re not filling it with passengers

The EV is returned filthy inside and out nearly every time … people eat, drink, smoke, and sneeze in the car. I’ve been amazed that I can give the car a fresh detail job and even on a 24-hour rental the car will look like they took it mudding in a swamp and had a party inside of the car.

Besides all of that, there is the annoyance of the charge cable. I always roll it up with velcro and place it back inside of its little cubby in the rear of the vehicle where it belongs. Don’t expect that customers will do this. Nope, they just leave it a tangled mess in the hatchback or rear seat.

So, what have I learned from this experience so far?

Well, first of all, I think this goes for Turo in general. I may end up with a free car. But by the time the car has paid for itself, there may not be much car left. Death by 1,000 cuts is the thought that comes to mind. Second of all, I can begin to understand why car dealerships don’t like dealing with electric cars. The general public is just uneducated. While I should have known this after spending a lot of my life working in tech support and IT helpdesk jobs, I guess it didn’t occur to me that an EV was so difficult for people to understand.

I also learned that a short-range EV a very bad way to introduce people an EV. It has been especially difficult the last week or two because the weather has been below freezing. With people driving this little car on the highway with the heater blasting, I think that 85-mile range has been more like 50 miles. A Chevy Bolt EV or Tesla would certainly be better in this regard.

I think a plug-in hybrid might also be a better choice. I am considering the possibility of renting out our Volt and i3 REX, in which case, the Fiat would still work for me as a backup car. As long as I have some sort of car available, I guess that’s fine. If I do this, I may write a follow-up article in a few months discussing the experience and whether or not it was different or better from the Fiat 500e.

I do want to mention, however, one person that rented my car was actually a long-time EV driver and even had a level-2 station in his garage. This was the one time that the rental experience was absolutely perfect for both of us. I didn’t spend any time hand-holding, and his expectations were correct from the beginning. Charging was not a problem for him since he had his own charger in his garage as well as the required RFID cards for the chargers around the metroplex. It’s a pity that all of my renters could have been more like him.

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41 Comments on "A Firsthand Account About Renting Out An EV On Turo"

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MarkT

Great write up! I too have my Leaf on Turo. Every time someone books it, I make sure to ask them in advance whether they have a garage or somewhere to plug-in. Also ask them where and how far they are looking to drive. Most of the time the reservation gets cancelled and to avoid the $50 penalty, I instruct the renter to contact Turo customer service and have them cancel because they didn’t realize the limitations.

Agree a plug-in hybrid would be best for Turo. We rented an I3 Rex last year. Good car for our vacation.

Unless the renter is EV-initiated, renting out a PHEV would just be lip-service on behalf of the owner.

From David’s description, all other renters would just treat it as an ICE car.

Might as well buy an ICE hybrid to rent it out on Turo.

More generally, thank you David for a very enlightening (and entertaining!) write-up.

Clearly if one ventures to buy a Turo-rental EV, it better have a QC port with some meaningful coverage in your area.

Also, at least around here (pacific NW) every single charging station has a call-in option for impromptu charging authorization.

Skryll

Your experience would likely be a bit different if it was a tip of the line expensive tesla, the people willing to pay $250/day are a different crowd. When I rented a model S from Turo and get around before we got our own we already had Shorter range EV experience and knowing the cost of the car made us very careful too.

Skryll

Top of the line

Mark.ca

Sadly humans behave differently when it comes to respecting others property depending on how far along are on the income ladder. When i was in vacation rental business, i had to jack up the prices in order to weed out the bums. A shocking thing happened, in the long run we made the same money but the crowds staying were much more carrying and in general educated people. I bet same applies here in the car rental biz. It is very sad the world works this way, the poor really get no breaks.

WadeTyhon

Going with a PHEV is probably the safest route to avoid confusion. A longer rage EV with DCFC like a Tesla or Bolt would work better as well.

For your fiat, you might also consider raising the price a bit and including a pre-loaded Chargepoint card and an evgo card in the dash. (Don’t send them to Blink, they will hate EVs forever! lol)

It is probably a good idea to meet them at a charging station also so you can give a brief demonstration.

When I loaned my Spark EV to a family member for a long weekend, I met them at an evgo near so i could explain how to initiate a charge and show them how to use the plugshare app.

“Fortunately, I found this used FIAT 500e. They aren’t even sold new in Texas, but there are a few used ones that have found their way over here.“

The Fiat dealer in McKinney has been selling used 500e for years now. There are quite a few running around Garland, Collin County and North Dallas! 😀

Alonso Perez

I think you should just hand out RFID cards with the car and account for that in the daily price, based on an average.

Other than that, I have to say it doesn’t sound too appealing. But it’s educational. Helps explain how people vote and how people buy cars.

And it does also make the Volt a more valuable proposition, if you think about it as a “gateway car” for people who otherwise would be hard to reach.

Still, I am surprised that in a world of smartphone owners, so many people don’t understand what 3% charge means.

God/Bacardi

RFID is a good idea; mention free charging in the ad…

To the smartphone thing, it’s all about entitlement, deep down they know they’re running out of juice, they’re contacting the renter because they’re hoping they’ll be offered something (partial refund)…

MacMac

Or they are wondering what that reserve is, like a gas tank, and a simple, it get’s you another 10 to 20 miles at most before it’s deader than dead.

Very enjoyable writeup.

Texas FFE

That’s not a good idea. If you give out your RFID cards you have to also have to get them back, which could be difficult. With a 1st gen EV the renter couldn’t probably charge more than $10 on a RFID card but with a 2nd gen EV with DCFC the renter could easily put $50+ on the card. An experience EV renter would probably already have RFID cards and an inexperienced EV renter can always call up the number on the public charger and get the charger remotely activated.

jnoxon

When our Volt was wrecked, I rented a Spark EV on Turo. I’m in Houston, and that owner’s experience seemed just like this account. I have a level 2 charger in my garage, and the Spark worked really well for the month we had it.

God/Bacardi
If you think about it, the author has the worst case scenario for Turo…Half the reason they could be leaving the car dirty was they’re ultimately unhappy with the car…And at anytime you could receive a bad rating… Here’s what you do, right now go make appraisal at CarMax.com, you might just get a descent offer and its free… Now for your next PHEV or EV vehicle, here’s where it can interesting… i3 REX is mentioned, overall I just don’t recommend that because I’d imagine 99% of renters who deplete the battery won’t even think about charging and plan on running on gas the rest of the time…You just open yourself up to bad reviews/refund requests if the reduced power mode is experienced…It’s also still pretty pricey at least compared to a Gen1 Volt… An old Gen1 Volt by far would be the cheapest PHEV and you can therefore charge less to rent it which increases the odds of someone renting it…Since you can continuously run on gas so you do not open yourself up to bad reviews/refund requests…This option by far is will by far will make you the most money… Finally the Bolt was mentioned; first, even used… Read more »

Well look at mind on turo
Had no problem at All with my renter also. Check also my profile I had a BMW i3 rx and rented for 40 with out a problem . Now this is my tesla
Check out my car on Turo! https://turo.com/rentals/cars/fl/hallandale-beach/tesla-model-s/316657

Rented the BMW 40 time

ffbj

Apparently you don’t live in TX.

Will

Its a different profile instead of the writer

Don Zenga

Is it true that Fiat 500e production is going to end.

Toyota stops selling Diesel vehicles in Italy which is a major blow as Italy is another Diesel supporting nation. Will Fiat follow suit.

Also all ev brother on this site if ever come to visit Miami .or ft Lauderdale

My tesla is avaiable

Check out my car on Turo! https://turo.com/rentals/cars/fl/hallandale-beach/tesla-model-s/316657

William

Thanks for the great write up on TURO and your Fiat 500e. Some good precautionary lessons were detailed in your post for the faint of heart, who are going to be listing their Tesla Model 3s when it arrives. Obviously the range issues won’t be nearly as significant.

Anybody who is getting around $300+ per day for their Tesla Model 3, should make out nicely, at least until Elons “production hell” is sorted out, and the TURO M3 supply/demand dilemma is dampened.

Texas FFE

People are getting about $60 a day for Bolt EVs and you can rent out some Model Ss for less than $100 a day. I seriously doubt many M3s will demand $300 per day.

Gabriel

I rented a Leaf and a Volt on Turo a while ago. When I booked for the Leaf, the owner provided me a Chargepoint card that I could use at will, except for fast charging. I ended up not using it since I drove it for less than 100 miles and I charged on a public free charging station in between. With the Volt it was a mess. The owner arrived late to the appointment by one hour (and I missed one of mine), the car was given without any charge and my Chargepoint card that I ordered a week before was mailed to the wrong address (their system dropped the house number, for some reason, even after I sent one e-mail to tell them about the problem).

Conclusion: Always give the car fully charged, don’t miss your appointment, and provide a charging card to the renters.

What was gender breakdown? Around here, 90% of 500e drivers seem to be female, I’m curious if it’s the same for renters.

Oddly, I find it completely opposite for SparkEV. I’ve never seen any female SparkEV driver. I wonder if more SparkEV are involved in crashes than 500e.

David Murray

So far all of my renters, including the ones I had to cancel, have been male. Also, a disproportionate about of them have been immigrants from the middle east or India. When I say disproportionate, I mean as compared to the population as a whole in this area.

Scott Franco

I sympathize a lot with the author.

However, it appears that Turo is not adequately paying for the true costs of your renting the car. If you have to clean it each time, how much is your labor worth? If it does not pay enough to rent to pay a professional to detail the car for you, then it appears like a money loser to me. You are making up the difference with cheap (free) labor, your own.

For the damage thing I can recommend what I have learned to do with rental car agencies after getting ripped off by one myself. I stick the camera in video mode and walk around the car. A high definition video is going to catch everything, and have a date and time on it as well.

For the other issues, I think “placard”, as in make signs like “must look for charger at %10” in big type and put on the dashboard, as well as “this car only does 70 miles on a charge”, etc.

Texas FFE

A quick wipe down and vacuum is usually enough for the next rental. You set the price, not Turo. But you can only charge what people are willing to pay and in the big cities there’s a lot of competition from smokers.

DJ

But hey in 10 years no one will own their own cars and car sharing will be the norm *sarcasm*

It’s no shock that people do this. No different than many of the cars I have seen returned at the rental lot…

Will

Ok the writer of this article is familiar.I wonder is it 8 bit guy of youtube. Video of if i3 rex trip from ft worth to Mongolia farms pops up

Also a bug hunter. Still waiting for the review of bug assault weapon 2.0.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9B47rpykVc

David Murray

Yep, that’s me.

Will

??? great videos

Texas FFE
I have both my 2013 and 2017 FFEs listed on Turo. I put my 2013 on Turo because I am trying to sell it and it was just sitting around. I have had similar experiences with my 2013 as David but for slightly different reasons. The 2013 rents at a very low rate. The rate is so low that the price is actually lower than many gas cars but it’s still a very attractive car. People would see the pictures of the pretty Ford Focus and rent without realizing it’s electric only. I had one renter of that figured they could save a lot of money renting my 2013 and charge the car for free but did a very poor job the researching EV charging options. That renter also was calling me at all hours asking for help finding charging stations, ended up getting very frustrated with car and blamed me. Since then I’ve developed a much less conciliatory attitude towards renters. I tell renters that they are responsible for knowing how to charge an EV, how find a charging station within the car’s available range and estimating how long it will take to charge at any charger. Turo will… Read more »
Asak

I think the problem is the low range more than anything else. When EVs have at least 200 miles of range, or better yet 300, then the charging issue becomes much smaller.

I probably wouldn’t even consider renting out a sub 100 mile EV. That range is so small that you need to be very mindful of where you drive. You can’t just get in and drive wherever you want.

That’s the best thing about the Chevy Bolt and Teslas. You just don’t have to think about it as much.

Texas FFE

The whole metric is pretty complicated right now. The longer range EVs with fast charging are out there for rent right now but they are also more expensive. An experienced EV driver will be able to make the EV he rents work for him whereas an inexperienced EV driver can get in trouble no matter what EV he rents.

Some Guy

Reading the article, the message is clear:
– Compliance cars have low range, which kinda sucks
– Many people are (very) dumb
– Don’t be gentle, its a rental!
– Turo is not easy money, lot of work required for cleaning
The most interesting info is missing, though.
Did it work out with the “free” car in the end, when counting all those hours of work?

Dub

Great write-up! I’m a 500e owner and I routinely rent Teslas in Turo while waiting for the Model 3 to arrive.

I treat these rentals as I do my own. I return them with a clean interior and often a clean exterior (if it isn’t too cold to wash).

I’ve considered renting the 500e out, but I don’t really have the time to deal with the issues that will come up. I’ve also considered renting out our Dieselgate Passat TDI, but we’ll lose out on quite a bit of money if someone totals it.

All-Purpose Guru

As a Californian (with a Honda Fit EV) who also lives in Galveston, Texas, I am AMAZED that people are even INTERESTED in a BEV in Texas.

We thought about bringing the Fit EV to Texas for about 2 seconds, before we realized we can’t even get shopping done in it when Costco and the asian markets are 55 miles away.

Given the lack of charging infrastructure we’ve decided to go with a Outlander (or similar) PHEV but it will be very hard to find one in Texas so we will probably have to bring one in– there is very little interest by dealers in EVs as far as we’ve seen.

The distances involved in getting ANYWHERE in Texas rule out pretty much all but the longest range BEVs.

I’m very intrigued in this discussion, as it upends our perceptions of the feasibility of EVs in the area.

Texas FFE

I have had my 2013 FFE for almost three years and I’ve put over 30,000 miles on the car. You can travel almost anywhere in Texas in an EV but the lack of fast chargers along the highways makes traveling between cities impractical unless you have a lot of spare time. With a Honda Fit, if you L2 home charged and lived in one of the cities, the car should meet most of your transportation needs.

The Honda Fit is really just a entry level EV. Unless you are a real homebody, it wouldn’t be long living in Texas that you will want something that charges faster and has longer range than the Honda Fit. I do have a backup smoker SUV for when my EVs won’t do the job but I drive it so little that I had to put a solar charger on it to keep the 12V battery charged.

Ozz

David, call me crazy, but wouldn’t you say this might have to do with your audience? I’ve been in Texas a time or two and they are some of the rudest, entitled folks I’ve ever run into. I mean they aren’t they only folks in this country with problems, but I sure Didn’t get much love, and especially on the roadways where their “true colors” shine.

Ozz

Many Texans are nice.. and sounds like you got some weird foreigners… so IDK. Maybe not

Nicholas

Turo is the worst with smokers and all, agreed.

jim stack

I could not even find 1 Electric to rent in the Phoenix area except the Tesla S and X at well over $100 a day. Turo is limited as the electric cars are limited.
Someday this will change. With the Bolt and Model 3 leading the way it should be much better in later 2018.